‘Breathe, refresh and restart’


A SCIENTIFIC approach will be adopted to ensure the rehabilitation of areas and communities affected by the oil spill caused by the sinking of the MT Princess Empress in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, on February 28.

“In line with the President’s guidance for a whole-of-nation approach in dealing with the consequences of disasters, we are undertaking this multi-sector scientific conference so that the pool of expertise on this subject matter can be tapped to ensure that our way forward in rehabilitation and recovery is effective,” Office of Civil Defense (OCD) Administrator, Undersecretary Ariel F. Nepomuceno said in a briefing on June 1.

The OCD chief, who also chairs the National Task Force on Oil Spill Management, said the scientific conference is scheduled this month, and will focus on recovery initiatives that would be truly helpful to the affected communities in “terms   of   economy, the environment and sustainability.”

Expected to participate in the conference are a number of scientific agencies, academic institutions, relevant government departments, local government units (LGUs) and other stakeholder organizations.

“The aim of the conference is to facilitate the conduct of a post-disaster need assessment (PDNA) to determine the effects and impacts of the oil spill incident on the affected areas, including general long-term impacts on agriculture (fisheries), the marine environment, tourism and livelihood, among others,” the OCD chief stressed.

End of siphoning ops

ALSO, Nepomuceno said they are looking forward to the conclusion of siphoning operations by the dynamic support vessel Fire Opal, which arrived in Oriental Mindoro to perform its task on May 28.

The ship was chartered by Malayan Towage and Salvage Corp.

It left Singapore on May 19 and arrived at Subic Freeport Zone on May 26 before starting operations in Oriental Mindoro.

The entire siphoning operation is expected to cover between 20 and 30 days.

The vessel will be used for oil extraction operations, transferring of oily waste to a tanker, and disposal of the collected oil.

MT Princess Empress was loaded with 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil when it sank off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, on February 28.

There are conflicting reports on how much MT Princess Empress was insured for, and whether the amount is enough to cover the ongoing cleanup and rehabilitation of affected communities.

Earlier reports placed it at around $1 billion, while some placed it at $284 million.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Rear Admiral Armand Balilo said about 120,000 to 240,000 liters of oil are expected to be extracted by Fire Opal.

“We are looking forward to the conclusion of the siphoning operations, for this will herald the conduct of the scientific conference. The conference will jumpstart the conduct of the PDNA and recovery planning by recommending valuation methods of affected environmental [assets],”OCD deputy administrator for operations, Assistant Secretary Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro IV, said.

“The outputs of the conference will serve as the basis for the formulation of a comprehensive rehabilitation and recovery plan for the affected areas,” he added.

83.74% of affected coastlines cleaned

IN the June 1 meeting, the PCG also reported that of the 79.33 km (83.74 percent) of affected coastlines, 66.433 km had been acceptably cleaned with only 12.89 km (16.26 percent) remaining for cleanup.

The ongoing cleanup operations yielded 44,656.30 liters of oily water mixture, 10,708 sacks, 997 drums, 119 pails, and 648 one-tonner bags of oil-contaminated sand/debris and oily waste from Calabarzon, Mimaropa, and Region 6.

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development also reported the disbursement of more than P611 million worth of assistance in the form of family food packs, non-food items, emergency cash transfers, and cash-for-work to the affected communities.

The total assistance provided by all relevant agencies amounts to more than P476 million.

To date, the oil spill has left P58,137,124 worth of damages and losses to fisheries, affected more than 27,500 fisherfolk, and caused 15 local government units to declare a state of calamity.

More than 42,400 families had been affected coming from the 107 areas of Oriental Mindoro, Palawan, Antique and Batangas.

Drinking water resources check

The OCD said that surveillance of all drinking water resources and chemical hazards in areas affected by the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro province is ongoing.

This is part of the whole-of-nation approach in dealing with the oil spill that affected a large number of communities in Oriental Mindoro and nearby provinces to ensure that the health of residents in affected communities will not be severely impacted.

“To continuously caution the communities on the dangers of the spill, the Department of Health (DOH) has been conducting surveillance of drinking water resources and exposed individuals to chemical hazards along with the release of public health advisories,” Alejandro said.

“Health assessments will continue to be conducted by the Centers for Health Development on the affected population, along with the monitoring of the latest situation, status of response operations, and possible assistance from the DOH Central Office,” Alejandro said.

Raps vs ‘conspirators’ filed

AS this developed, the National Bureau of Investigation-Environmental Crime Division on June 6 filed criminal complaints before the Department of Justice against 35 individuals, including PCG personnel and the owners of the sunken MT Princess Empress that caused a massive oil spill that threatened the waters off Oriental Mindoro and other nearby provinces.

Charged with falsification of the certificate of public convenience (CPC) are seven incorporators and directors of RDC Reield Marine Services Company, the company that owned the sunken oil tanker, the captain of the MT Princess Empress, along with six crew members and 19 personnel from the PCG of varying ranks.

“Issuance of an authenticated form, a document purporting to be a copy of an original document when no such original exists. RDC Reield directors are presumed to be the authors of the falsified document as they were in possession of the same and made use of the document,” DOJ spokesperson Jose Dominic Clavano said.

He also pointed out that the owners of the sunken ship benefitted from the use of the falsified document.

The captain of the MT Princess Empress was liable as he was considered a general agent of the ship owner.

As for the PCG personnel, Clavano said they were found liable “as they conduct pre-departure inspections for domestic oil tankers prior to voyage, and first and foremost on their checklist is to check the validity of the CPC.”

In line with this, a director and a regional head of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) in Region 5, along with two officials of RDC Reield, were charged with  falsification of construction certificate and tonnage measurement; certificate of ownership; and certificate of Philippine registry.

“The officials from Marina and RDC Reield Marine Services Inc. allegedly conspired for the purpose of illegally registering the MT Princess Empress with false documents,” Clavano explained.

Likewise, two officials of RDC Reield were charged with perjury under Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code.

Among the documents allegedly perjured were the supporting documents to apply for a tonnage measurement certificate.

“The two company officials, through the falsified construction certificate, and the perjured affidavit of ownership and builder’s certificate, obtained the tonnage measurement certificate signed by the engineers of Marina. The certificate was issued in favor of MT Princess Empress,” the DOJ spokesperson pointed out.

Clavano said Pola, Oriental Mindoro Mayor Jennifer Cruz also stood as a complainant in the case aside from the NBI.

Pola was among the towns that sustained the most damage from the oil spill.

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